Oh-h-h, she has your smile. She talks like you, too. Walks like you. And wow, her eyes. They’re the exact same as your husband’s. Same color of blue. Same laser intensity. And your little boy…look at him, he’s the spitting image of you. Everything, his hair, the twinkle in his eyes, the shape of his face…
I hear these things and I smile. They warm my heart. They’re the kind of thing I use to wonder about, dream about. How would my kids be like me? How would they be like my husband? Which features would they inherit? I tended to think they would be the very best of me…the very best of him. Of us. Like our own personal greatest hits.
But there’s another side to the equation, a side I never thought about until I actually had children. We, each of us, have good traits, good features, characteristics, but we also have those that we aren’t so fond of. That maybe need work, improvement. That we struggle with…wish we could change. There’s the very best of us, and the very worst. And our children inherit both.
I’m a worrier. Always have been, probably always will be. I’m not real happy about this, but for as long as I can remember, my mind always runs to the worst possible scenario. If someone was late getting home, they’d been in a car accident. They were in a ditch somewhere, horribly injured, or worse. If a friend was unresponsive to me, or looked at me the wrong way, or heck, maybe their voice just wasn’t right or they didn’t return my call…they hated me. I’d done something terrible to them, and now they were done with me. Airplane turbulence…we were going down. A headache…an aneurysm. A summons to my boss’s office…I was fired. You get the picture.
Yeah, not a real fun way to be.
This is something I’ve really worked on in my adult life, to overcome this near debilitating habit of worrying. Then, one horrible day, I noticed my daughter doing it. She heard a weather forecast. There was a chance of storms. Maybe even a tornado. And suddenly she was beside herself, freaking out that there was going to be a tornado and we were going to die. Another day it was the thought of a test the next week, a big test by third grade standards, but suddenly she was extrapolating failure on that test out all the way to failure to get into a good college, which meant she wouldn’t have a good education, wouldn’t get a good job… Once she even told me that she got worried when she realized she wasn’t worried, because that made her worry that she was forgetting what she was supposed to be worried about.
Houston, we have a problem. Right there in that sweet little child of mine….the very, very worst of me, the big, bad dark cloud that followed me everywhere.
Ah, baby. I’m so sorry. THAT is not something I wanted to share with you. My eyes, my mouth, my smile….those. That’s what I wanted for you.
Then there’s my son. He’s the one that favors me, from a physical perspective, much more closely. But…he’s also got my emotional makeup. And my cognitive. And so much more. You can’t tell him to do (or not do) anything. You can’t spare him an accident, or pain. He’s got to learn it himself, often the hard way.
Just like me. (My daughter, she’ll actually listen…just like her father…)
So I realize it one day. Holy cow, these poor sweet kids. They inherited some of the best of me, but some of the worst, too. (For the record, they got the best and worst my husband, too!) It’s a total mixed bag…and it’s so, so sobering. (The good, the bad, the ugly, anyone?) It’s like some kind of karmic, cosmic joke, I found myself thinking.
What better way to force you out of your own destructive habits, your own neurosis or blind-spots, than the desire to spare you kids, show them a better way? Seeing my own struggles manifest in my children both challenges and inspires me to step up and be a better version of myself. I want better for them. I don’t want them to get stuck in the same traps I did, the same train wrecks, to deal with the same self-inflicted wounds. I don’t want my daughter to worry herself into an ulcer, or my son to learn every lesson the hard way. It’s so eye-opening sometimes, when maybe I’m lost in my own worry, but suddenly see my daughter descending into her worry (often about the same thing), and suddenly I’m cast in a different role. No longer can I wallow in my own worry because now, as a parent to this little person I love beyond imagine, it’s my job to teach her a different way. A better way. I’ve got to find a way through my own dark forest…so I can help her find a way. And my son…I’ve got to put aside my own emotional volatility and figure out how to rein him in without stomping on his spirit…and without him realizing he’s being corralled. (It’s fascinating to look back and realize this is a trait I inherited from my father, which, I know now, is why we butted heads so famously when I was growing up. I didn’t like being dictated to…and neither did/does he. And neither does my son.)
It’s something I tell my nieces, half jokingly, half not. That guy you’re dating? The really hot one or the really exciting one? The one who sometimes drives you notes? Who you think you might want to marry? Just remember, you’re going to end up raising a little him…the good, and the bad 🙂
The very best of us, and the very worst of us. A composite. That’s what our kids are. A mirror, inside and out. And a chance, I’m coming to think, a chance to step outside ourselves and help create something different, better.
We can’t undo our past, but the future—our children’s future—is yet to be written.
How do you want to change their story, from your own?
(Photo credit: Wendy Valderrama, Valderrama Photography, http://www.valderramaphotography.com)